The news that NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft has made contact with Pluto after a nine-and-a-half year journey to the far reaches of the solar system is yet another “giant leap for mankind”.
46 years after Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon and uttered those immortal words, the New Horizons Spacecraft, about the size of a baby grand piano (right), on Wednesday 15th July completed its journey of 3 billion miles with a fly-by of Pluto and for the first time ‘phoned home’. The pre-programmed call was a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back to mission operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, USA, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Due to the enormous distances the short signal took four hours and 25 minutes to reach Earth.
Having manufactured and supplied many bespoke ceramic components for use in space exploration, we thought it apt to this mark this major landmark.
The success of the mission means that humans have now had satellites visit every single planet in our solar system. Fresh images of Pluto; at 10 times the resolution of even the best pictures previously seen will be available for the world to marvel at and enjoy. A wealth of information on the ‘dwarf’ planet (below) and the moon ‘Charon’ and its other satellites will also become available.
About 99% of the data that New Horizons has collected on its journey is still in the spacecraft and will take around 16 months to download. But after a journey of nearly a decade, it will be well worth waiting for.
In many space applications, technical ceramics can provide an excellent size-to-weight payoff. Often designed to ensure the extreme vibrations of take-off, they also provide the electrical insulation required in the vacuum of space as well as being able to withstand huge thermal cycling, especially for spacecraft flying close to the sun.
Custom made ceramic components were designed and manufactured by Precision Ceramics for NASA’s Messenger Mission to Mercury which ended successfully earlier this year and more recently our ceramics have found fame in the thrusters of micro spacecraft and mini satellites used for space exploration.